Well, hey there!
Come on in, sit down. Can I getcha anything? A coffee? Glass of wine? Bagel bites from the garage fridge? You sure? Okay, well, you just let me know.
Welcome to A Guide to Midwestern Conversation
, a manual to and a road trip through the twelve states designated as “The Midwest” by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, New World Encyclopedia
, United States Census Bureau, and most dads. Those states are, in alphabetical order (well, almost; I’m starting with my home state but, I promise, this is the only time I’ll play favorites): Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
I wanted to get that out of the way first, because sometimes people like to debate what “counts” as the Midwest, and to be honest with you, that whole conflict isn’t really my thing.
While “The Midwest” is a certain defined geographical region (not debatable within this book), a “Midwesterner” can live, visit, and squeeze right past ya anywhere in the world! We’re united by much more than the many (many!) acres of land that divide us. The similarities in the way we talk, give directions, and cover our necks during tornado drills bind us together almost as much as our love of puppy chow.
It’s not really fair to call the Midwest “misunderstood” because (1) I think we Midwesterners understand our deal pretty gosh darn well, and (2) I don’t think anyone else (ahem, Coasties) has tried hard enough to even get it wrong. But one thing that I think folks get a little bit twisted is the idea of “Midwestern Nice.” Some people characterize it as being passive-aggressive, intimating that we’re as mean as everyone else but we just do it with a smile. Negativity with a side of deep-fried disingenuousness, if you will. Others come down on the opposite side, claiming that Midwestern Nice is a form of superhuman kindness and hospitality. That we, as a species, are just so deeply nice, we are incapable of feeling anger or displeasure, let alone of expressing it.
Ope, surprise! It’s neither. The truth, like us, is somewhere in the middle.
Midwestern conversation is a language all its own. Of course,
we feel the full range of human emotions (duh!?
) and get as frustrated or angry or judgmental as anybody else. It’s simply that the way we communicate those feelings is specific to us, our upbringing, and our neighbors. Saying “I didn’t really care for it” isn’t a Midwestern euphemism
for “The odiousness of what I just witnessed is all-consuming, and I will not rest until my leisure time is avenged”; it’s just the way we say it! It isn’t two-faced any more than “bonjour” is a two-faced way of communicating “hello.”
At the same time, the Midwestern attitude toward others is something special. We do
go out of our way for our neighbors and our guests. We do
place a premium on making folks feel welcome and taken care of. We do
have an extra cooler in the back of the Camry if ya need it for your trip to the lake; seriously, just let us know and we’ll go right out and grab it for ya.
All this to say that this guide is about as far from laughing at
the Midwest as you can get. It’s laughing with, for,
and because of
the millions of wonderful people who make up the heart of this country—and the entirety of the Culver’s rewards program. I want this guide to clarify your conversations. To start conversations. I want you and your friends to read a few pages out loud and then have to put the book down, next to the Tater–Tot casserole, while you share stories about which friend’s finished basement was the best for playing truth-or-dare.
Whether you’re looking to become a Midwesterner yourself, trying to communicate better with a middle-American loved one, preparing for a trip to the heartland (bring a jacket!), or just brushing up on your hometown lingo, I hope this book feels like a warm hug and a firm handshake (with eye contact).
This is A Guide to Midwestern Conversation.
Take off your coat and stay a while. Taylor
Copyright © 2023 by Taylor Kay Phillips. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.